Courtney Milan, Hold Me: Billionaire romance is now such a solid genre that Milan can tweak its conventions—Maria is a relatively poor girly-girl with a secret and nearly with an accounting degree; Jay is a wealthy, driven scientist with a tragic secret who writes Maria off when he first meets her because he judges her as frivolous. Unlike the usual “I realize I was an asshole and I’m sorry because I love you,” at least, Jay gets to realize he was an asshole and be sorry about it because it’s wrong to be an asshole; his encounters with Maria lead him to decide to change in general, not to make her his exception. As usual, the witty repartee and real heat between the leads is the strong suit. I would say that a key part of the plot, in which two people meet online under pseudonyms and then meet offline and don’t know it for a while, is unbelievable—except that has actually happened to me with one of my close friends. Also in real life Trump is the president, and who’d believe that? Maybe we have to give up on unbelievability and go with fun, and if so Milan is a good choice.

Courtney Milan, The Year of the Crocodile: Short followup to Milan’s Trade Me, in which the lovers’ parents meet, which is awkward because her parents are Falun Gong and his father makes billions from dealing with China and taking advantage of Chinese labor.

Sarah J. Maas, Empire of Storms: Cranky old lady warning: I’m still basically enjoying this series, especially when it leaves purple-eyed assassin/queen Aelin for long periods to spend time with the vicious witch-queen Manon (and the magic-wielding king who’s into her) and the strong but scarred escapee-from-evil Elide (and the Fae protecting her). But it’s been long enough that I’ve forgotten some of the complex worldbuilding re: the influence of the gods on the coming conflict with Evil. And this volume featured some explicit sex scenes that gave me a bad Laurell Hamilton flashback, in part because it’s a big deal in the book to call Fae men “males” instead of men because they’re not human and “male” as an independent noun makes me itch, and in part because magic leads them to have better sex than anyone ever. Still, as I said, my complaints are mostly cranky; there’s still a tense tale of fantasy geopolitics and quests going on. 

Kim Stanley Robinson, Aurora: Well, this was a fitting novel to read in the Trump era. It’s not even a dystopia, but it’s about a big failure—a colony ship that reaches its destination only to find that the destination can’t be home. The narrator for most of the book is an AI or AIs, depending on how you think about it, and this leads to some interesting perspectives on human intentionality, describing actions rather than decisively identifying mental states—first person limited, if you will. Robinson’s usual rich descriptions are devoted to engineering, biological problem-solving, astrophysics, and wave motions on the ocean. It’s less depressing than it might be, maybe because life goes on for humanity whether we will it or not, maybe because there are still people of goodwill trying to talk others out of dumb projects.

Rachel Caine, Ink and Bone: In an alternate steampunk-magic-style universe where the Library of Alexandria never burned, Librarians control all knowledge, with everyone else limited to “blanks” that can be rewritten by magical technology. Unless they go to the book smugglers. Our protagonist Jess is from a family of book smugglers, whose father buys him a chance at becoming a Librarian both to deal with Jess’s insuitability for the family trade and to give the family an insider with good access to books. In training, Jess discovers that matters are considerably more complicated than he thinks, in particular with respect to the Obscurists capable of manipulating the Library’s magic, who are locked up in the Iron Tower. Interesting start to a series.

Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror, ed. Ellen Datlow. I have read a lot of Datlow collections over the years. This one didn’t stand out, which isn’t necessarily a criticism. There was a lot more apocalyptic horror than I remember from similar collections but I didn’t go back and check—I may be paying more attention to end-of-the-world narratives than before. Represented authors include: Gene Wolfe, Brian Hodge, Lisa Tuttle, Gemma Files (epistolary horror, where you’re supposed to put together the pieces); Margo Lanagan, Caitlin R. Kiernan (genderswapped SPN where they’re serial killers instead of monster hunters), and Richard Kadrey. Standouts for me were Anna Taborska’s Little Pig, which doesn’t require any supernatural beasties when human decisions can be terrible enough, and Garth Nix’s Shay Corstam Worsted, which might be one of the apocalyptic stories—the ending is ambiguous.

Richard Kadrey, Kill the Dead: Stark investigates zombie problems in LA. I read this one out of order—it’s the second book in the series—and I was spoiled for some major developments, but it was still fun. Stark is Sam Spade, but hunting supernatural trouble, and he gets to be annoyed at practically everyone, from the government to Lucifer.

Richard Kadrey, Aloha from Hell: Stark has to return to Hell to rescue the ghost of his dead lover, which involves an Inferno-esque journey through the chaotic regions of Hell, guided by someone who claims to be Jack the Ripper. Betrayal and battles ensue. This one didn’t hold my attention as much as the first; there’s a lot of travel per unit of battle.

Richard Kadrey, Devil Said Bang: Stark is the new Lucifer, except he’s not very good at it. After several brutal power plays, he takes a vacation topside in order to visit his girlfriend, and gets sucked into some other troubles, like the ghost of a little girl who’s killing the Dreamers who preserve the world’s coherence.

Richard Kadrey, Kill City Blues: Sandman Slim journeys through the Underworld to find the Magic 8-Ball, a weapon that can destroy the Old Gods currently threatening to return and crush Heaven, Hell, and Earth alike. This is a quest narrative, and so the picaresque descriptions didn’t make me sigh with impatience as they did a couple of other times in the series—the journey is the point. Also killing things and stomping people.

Richard Kadrey, Dead Set: Zoe’s dad died, she and her mom lost their house, and she tried to kill herself. Now, she’s trying to get back on track, but it’s hard—especially when a strange man offers to let her see, then talk to, her dead father, asking only for some hair, a tooth, a bit of blood. Then he disappears. Nicely creepy YA with a realistically troubled but still loving mother-daughter relationship.

Diana Wynne Jones, Deep Secret: The Magids have a problem—several problems. Earth needs a new one to keep magic in order, and also the Koryfonic empire, on another world entirely, is falling apart. Rupert Venables is assigned to both worlds, and as he tries to figure out which potential Magid to recruit he’s also dealing with appalling plots against the empire. And, as it turns out, a sci-fi/fantasy convention held on a powerful node, in a hotel that has different configurations for different times. Lots of quirkiness that probably would have appealed to me more if I had better memories of her other works.
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